In a year when a number of longtime Chicago aldermen were shown the door and several others barely held onto their seats in tight runoff races, the time seems ripe to offer some friendly advice to new and veteran faces on the City Council.
A refresher for some; a warning about developing bad habits for others.
We know aldermen are inundated with phone calls, letters and e-mails, but their first priority should be to get back to their constituents. Unreturned calls and letters equal angry residents. Even if there is no immediate resolution to a complaint, people need to know they have been heard. An on-the-ball aldermanic staffer who responds to residents is a must for every council member who wants to keep his seat.
Communication is key. Aldermen not only need to get the word out about important meetings, but they need to do so well in advance of the event. Residents don't like to find out after-the-fact. E-mail blasts are a good idea, but often don't reach senior citizens or others who have yet to embrace the technology. Networking with community groups and blanketing schools, police stations, churches and senior centers with announcements is still critical.
An alderman is only as good as his Web site. Residents who do have computers rely heavily on these sites for information on ward services. Some sites are comprehensive and up-to-date, while others might as well have cob webs hanging on them. Having an Internet-savvy staff member to update the site is a must.
Several aldermen who were ousted this year were notorious for not including residents in important zoning/development matters. North Siders realize they live in rapidly-morphing neighborhoods, but they want a say in those changes. Aldermen would be wise to include neighbors in the decision-making process, or next time around, residents will elect someone who will.
Some of those same aldermen got a little too cozy with real estate developers pitching projects in their wards. Bad idea. Sooner or later, residents will figure out where an alderman's priorities lie.
We agree with veteran Alderman Richard Mell, 33rd, who warns new council members that, "if they think all they are is legislators, they're only going to be serving one term." Crafting new laws is all well and good, but you better make sure the garbage is picked up, the pot holes are filled, and the street lights are working first.
There is no shortage of community meetings, but we suggest at least sending aldermanic reps to neighborhood CAPS meetings. They are a good touchstone for neighborhood issues--often before they become full-blown problems.
The bottom line is that our City Council should never lose sight of the reason they were elected in the first place: To serve their constituents.
Let the aldermanic games begin.